The glory and the frustration of the baseball season is that it is loooooong. 162 games allows for plenty of error, but it also tends to result in big sections of the season becoming blurred over time. In an effort to create some sort of time capsule of the season, and to attempt to maintain more concrete memories, I/we will be doing monthly reviews throughout this season. Since this is a new idea, I’d love to hear about any other rankings or assessments you’d like to see in future installments - just let me know in the comments below.
MVP of the month (hitter): Mitch Haniger
Including two games of March, Haniger is currently hitting .293/.374/.652 with a 171 wRC+ and an outrageous 1.026 OPS. He’s striking out slightly more often than he has in the past and walking 11.2% of the time, but perhaps the most absurd thing about his line thus far is that it looks...sustainable. Beyond a slugging percentage only topped by his 2016 AAA stint when he just destroyed the PCL, and a .359 ISO that stands as his best ever, nothing looks especially out of place. His BABIP is exactly average, his K-rate is less than a percentage point higher than his career average and, assuming he stays healthy (KNOCK ON WOOD), this month could very well be a prelude to his true breakout year.
MVP of the month (pitcher): Edwin Díaz
Confession time: I only planned on having a singular MVP of the month, and I picked Mitch Haniger because the man hit 10 dingers in April and is the only Mariner to do so in franchise history, beyond Ken Griffey Jr and Nelson Cruz. But then I remembered Díaz, and his 4th-best-in-baseball K/9, and his American League-leading strikeouts, and his MLB-leading saves. He’s been so electric even MLB couldn’t ignore him:
Best surprise: The back-up catcher experience
When Mike Zunino was scratched from the Opening Day lineup and subsequently placed on the DL for a strained oblique I thought the team was doomed. 2018 was supposed to be the Year of Zunino or, at the very least, the Year of Not Constantly Stressing About Zunino. Suddenly the earnest charm of Mike Marjama didn’t seem so charming, and the sweetly hopeful Spring Training from David Freitas didn’t seem so hope-inducing - it was a bit like when social niceties demand you compliment your friend’s fedora, and then they whip out a matching one and suddenly you find yourself out at a bar wearing a fedora in the year 2018. But, questionable frame-jobs not withstanding, Marjama and Freitas filled in admirably, and Freitas even managed to leverage that opportunity into a full-time backup role with the big league club.
Runner-up: Dee Gordon, center fielder but, most importantly, Dee Gordon, leadoff hitter.
Honorable mention to Julie Seager, who apparently removed all traces of “April” from the Seager household to ensure Kyle would have a strong start to the season.
Biggest disappointment: Left field, and the treatment thereof
Few decisions of the Dipoto regime have infuriated me quite like their decision to send Guillermo Heredia down to AAA, rather than DFAing/sending down Ichiro (or, hm, I don’t know: giving a struggling Ben Gamel more time to rehab). It would be all too easy to carry on about the groove Heredia was in, his superior defense and defensive flexibility, etc, etc. Instead, John and Kate said it best: this was simply the wrong move.
Best game: Opening Day 3/29, Félix Hernández vs Corey Kluber, 2-1
Other games were flashier, other games featured better hitting and/or pitching, but I’ll be damned if I can remember another early-season, nine inning game with more excitement. It was a microcosm of what we’d figured they would need to do, to be successful this season - the pitchers did their thing (a heck of a thing), the offense managed enough (okay, really Nelson Cruz managed just enough) to carry them through, and yeah, it felt a little bit lucky. I was terrified, nauseous, and elated and sure it was the first game of the season, but I’ll be darned if it didn’t also feel like a playoff atmosphere.
Worst game: 10-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox, 4/23, Mike Leake vs Carson Fulmer
It’s always disappointing when a team loses a game they’re supposed to win. Other possible contenders for this award were the blowout loss in San Francisco, the blowout shutout in Kansas City, or the infuriating 4-2 loss to the Twins in subzero temps. But this White Sox game takes the cake, because watching the White Sox right now is a painfully rude experience, acceptable only when the Mariners rightfully trounce them.
Best series: Cleveland series 4/26 - 4/29
They went 3-1 against a team that won 102 games last season and was widely considered to be one of the top playoff contenders this season. Not only did they beat Cleveland, they crushed them, flexing those offensive muscles for 32 runs in four games, with their sole loss coming by just one run.
Worst series: Houston series 4/16 - 4/19
Thus far the only series they’ve lost, and their longest losing streak (three games). While the losses stunk, the worst part by far was watching the once-dominant offense grow meek in the face of curveballs, with just six runs throughout the entire series. But at least we got to watch Carlos Correa.
Bonus visual highlights:
Nelson Cruz for #Mariners today:— David Adler (@_dadler) April 28, 2018
116.9 mph single
114.8 mph single
114.1 mph double
That makes him the 1st player since #Statcast started with 3 batted balls of 114+ mph in a game -- let alone 3 base hits.
And it doesn't even include his 109.4 mph, 428-foot home run! pic.twitter.com/wm3VCucEMs
We are all Nelson Cruz after Daniel Vogelbach just crushed the living hell out of a baseball. pic.twitter.com/d883Nx3d4r— C.J. Tumbarello (@TumbarelloHB) April 15, 2018
May April’s victory showers bring even more bountiful May flowers.